Opinions Sun, 2 Aug 2015

The road to heaven: which way?

How did religion come to be with us? Of the many theories that have been crafted to unveil our origins, the actual truths remain clouded in secrecy. Could it have started in that Garden of Eden? Was it born out of insecurity due to our misunderstanding of the environment? Could the idea be one designed to instill hope in a miserable world or one purported to subjugate others to an inferior status, or perhaps a means to define identity? Whatever the intent, there seems to be a corroborating intelligence of an invincible hand behind the scenes. How we came to be here, the purpose for which we are here and whither we go from here, never ceased poking the mind. The quest for answers brought mankind to the fore, that mystery has its place beside matter, and needs to be reckoned with, that where the test tube dare not reveal, signs and wonders holds sway, and that massaging inexplicable circumstances with doses of myths is the best means of indoctrinating and strengthening bonds of fraternity.

Where our forefathers dare thread, we followed. In various times, they worshipped the sun, moon, rivers, mountains and other objects which they regarded as appendages of the Great Spirit, the creator and sustainer of live who is beyond direct approach by mortals. Subsequent generations saw men of extraordinary genius and character, endowed with gifts of spirit, come to re-define and also redirect a new path of religion. The messages they bring usually get woven into folklore, deeply engrossed in language and thought of the tradition and culture of the communities where they originated, to make its appeal more acceptable. The absence of a generally applicable standard of linguistic expression due to the dynamic relationship between language, culture and tradition in each generation however, sullied the semantics of the core message of the different messengers, which is about unity, love, forgiveness, compassion and respect for nature.

The supplication of prayer through multiple agents of spirit undoubtedly created an impression that the concert of spiritual manifestations was not the preserve of a sole spirit power. The prevalence of multiple means of tapping into spiritual power opened a Pandora box of opportunism, exploitation, illusionism, fraudsters and charlatans who employ the powers of mediums for selfish ends.

Descending the pages of history, various theistic beliefs were established; Monotheism, the belief in only ONE sovereign God. Polytheism is the belief in many gods. Pantheism; a belief that everything in nature manifests some degree of the divine, and henotheism; a belief that there are many gods but only one is worshipped.

Paganism and Hinduism are polytheistic and also pantheistic nature-worshipping religions, well over 5000years old. They believe that God cannot be approached directly but through a host of intercessory demigods, believed to bid human offerings in return for protection, prosperity, aversion of a curse and others. Reverence of nature and moral responsibility towards another are core tenets.

Judaism is monotheistic and henotheistic (Exodus 20:3), born some 3400years ago, when God adopted Abraham from his father’s house (Gen 12:1). The Prophet Moses, who is the main architect of Judaism, is believed to have had direct contact with God who inspired him to write down its laws and teachings as observed in the Torah and the Talmud, the Jewish holy books. Jews believe they are a special race set aside by God Deut. 7:6). Observing the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath day of rest are core tenets of their belief.

Buddhism began about 2550years ago by Siddhartha Gautama. The Buddha as he was called was a royal Prince in India. Seeing so much sickness, misery and poverty among his community, he abandoned his opulence lifestyle for an ascetic life. By constantly meditating, fasting and searching for the truth about life, he concluded that salvation depends on one’s own actions and thoughts rather than a messiah. The fundamental teachings of Buddhism hinges on the application of the four noble truths and the eightfold path.

Christianity is monotheistic, emerging 2000years ago. Jesus Christ is believed by his followers to be the Son of God who came to break the barrier of sin between God and man. Jesus claimed authority over sin and death. This he demonstrated by forgiving sins, raising the dead back to life and himself resurrecting from death. The hallmark of Christianity is submitting to the will of God, forgiving, loving another and believing in the salvation power of Jesus.

Islam emerged 1500years ago in an era where backward pagan practice and worship was rife. Its founder, the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have received the Quran, the sacred text of Islam from an angel of God. Islam’s central message is the proclamation of the oneness of God, Allah and submission to His will. Adherents are characterized by the practice of the five pillars of faith.

All these religions preach a common destiny for humanity but through different pathways. Their common goal is to arouse spiritual awakening, promote moral discipline and harmony between man and the rest of nature and to encourage peaceful coexistence. I am convinced that God was known, and was connecting to people before His encounter with Abraham. The fact that the messengers of the various religions had come at different times of history to announce alternative ways to live God’s will, changes nothing. To denigrate therefore, someone’s religion on the basis of the pathway one has chosen can only be driven by ignorance. In the Holy Bible, God recalls how He had made all things and conditioned them for His purpose, Jeremiah 27:5. He affirmed in Ezekiel 18:4 that all souls belong to Him. Deut. 32:8 tells us about God dividing the Nations according to the number of His sons. Gen. 11:6-7 tells about how God divided the language of men to bring about diversity. In Eccl. 3 we are told that everything that happens is perfectly timed. In Exodus 4:11 and Isaiah 45:5-7, God reveals to us that He is the causer of everything, no exceptions. God even causes some to be atheist, Isaiah 29:10, 6:10, Prov. 16:4, so that they can play a role in His great master plan. Exodus 20:20 tells us that it is God who brings temptations. God’s power and will cannot be subverted or circumvented by any other power. Indeed, with God, all things are possible.

We are very often blinded by misunderstanding and over reliance on dogma. Interpreting scripture must consider the connectivity of linguistic, tradition and culture of that era, apart from the circumstances prompting that statement. Our differences may be the test we must overcome to demonstrate unity as Gods true children. This calls for tolerance and humility, love and forgiving heart. We refuse to see through the test because of greed and our falsely perceived egos.

A journey to London, for example, may be made by train, aeroplane, bus, or by motorcycle, but they will all get there. God, Allah, Brahman or Onyamkopong are references about the same personality.

Columnist: Twum, Thomas